Thursday, September 1, 2011

Seventh Circuit: No First Amendment Right for Medicaid Home-Care Workers to Skip Union Dues

A three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit ruled today in Harris v. Quinn that Medicaid home-care workers do not have a First Amendment right to dodge union dues under a collective bargaining agreement with the state.

The case is notable (even if the result is unsurprising) because it appears to be the first time that a federal court has applied the First Amendment line including Railway Employees' Dep't v. Hanson and Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Educ. to employees who answer to two or more bosses.  Those cases hold that pure public employees who decline to join a union may nevertheless be required to pay union dues without violating their First Amendment rights.  But those cases don't say anything about workers who may be employees of the state and another employer.

In contrast to the workers in Hanson and Abood, the Medicaid home-care workers in Harris seemed to be employees of their patient-clients (those people who relied upon their home-care services) and the state.  Here's what the panel said:

While the home-care regulations leave the actual hiring selection up to the home-care patient, the State sets the qualifications and sets the patient's choice.  And while only the patient may technically be able to fire a personal assistant, the State may effectively do so by refusing payment for services provided by personal assistants who do not meet the State's standards.  When it comes to controlling the day-to-day work of a personal assistant, the State exercises its control by approving a mandatory service plan that lays out a personal assistant's job responsibilities and work conditions and annually reviews each personal assistant's performance.  Finally, the State controls all of the economic aspects of employment . . . .

Op. at 12 (citations omitted).  Because the workers were state employees (even if they were also employees of their clients), Abood applied, and they had no First Amendment right against a requirement to pay their union dues.


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